In Memoriam: Wolfgang Sachtler (1924–2017)

Wolfgang SachtlerThe catal­y­sis com­mu­nity mourns the loss of one of its for­ma­tive and most influ­en­tial fig­ures, Pro­fes­sor Dr. Wolf­gang Max Hugo Sachtler, who passed away on Jan­u­ary 8, 2017. Born on Novem­ber 8, 1924 in Delitzsch, Ger­many, Pro­fes­sor Sachtler received his PhD from the Tech­ni­cal Uni­ver­sity Braun­schweig (Brunswick), Ger­many in 1952, in the area of sur­face sci­ence. Upon grad­u­a­tion, he joined the Royal Dutch Shell Lab­o­ra­tory in Ams­ter­dam where he stayed until retire­ment as Direc­tor of Fun­da­men­tal Research in 1983. From 1963–84, he held a joint appoint­ment as Pro­fes­sor at the National Uni­ver­sity in Lei­den. He was par­tic­u­larly known for his insight­ful appli­ca­tion of sur­face sci­ence con­cepts to catal­y­sis. While at Shell and Lei­den, he advanced the con­cept of rela­tion­ship between metal-oxygen bond energy and the selec­tiv­ity for par­tial oxi­da­tion prod­ucts in hydro­car­bon oxi­da­tions, ini­ti­ated insight­ful dis­cus­sions on whether mol­e­c­u­lar or atomic oxy­gen is nec­es­sary for selec­tive epox­i­da­tion of eth­yl­ene, applied ther­mo­dy­nam­ics and exper­i­men­tal mea­sure­ments to metal alloys to account for the effects of the sur­face com­po­si­tions of alloys to their bind­ing of adsor­bates, and pro­moted the descrip­tion of bimetal­lic catal­y­sis in terms of ensem­ble and lig­and effects.

He joined North­west­ern Uni­ver­sity in Evanston in 1983 as the V.N. Ipati­eff Pro­fes­sor of Cat­alytic Chem­istry and the first Direc­tor of the Cen­ter for Catal­y­sis and Sur­face Sci­ence, where he con­tin­ued his pro­lific and influ­en­tial pro­fes­sional career. He was a lead­ing fig­ure in the design, syn­the­sis, and detailed inves­ti­ga­tion of gen­e­sis of metal­lic par­ti­cles in zeo­lites, their chem­i­cal prop­er­ties, and cat­alytic reac­tion mech­a­nisms. He pro­vided the first evi­dence of proton-induced cationic metal clus­ters in zeo­lite. Later, he broad­ened his research port­fo­lio to include NOx abate­ment by selec­tive cat­alytic reduc­tion strate­gies and hydro­car­bon con­ver­sions cat­alyzed by strong acids. He was among the first to rec­og­nize that trace amounts of alkenes were nec­es­sary for the low tem­per­a­ture iso­mer­iza­tion of butane over sul­fated zir­co­nia. In all, he con­tributed 440 schol­arly pub­li­ca­tions to the literature.

His work was rec­og­nized with the E. V. Mur­phree Award and the Petro­leum Chem­istry Award of the Amer­i­can Chem­i­cal Soci­ety, the Eugène Houdry Award of the North Amer­i­can Catal­y­sis Soci­ety, the Rideal Lec­ture­ship Award of Fara­day Div. Royal. Chem. Soc., R.L. Bur­well Lec­ture­ship Award of North Amer­i­can Catal­y­sis Soci­ety, François Gault Lec­ture­ship Award of Euro­pean Fed. of Catal­y­sis Soci­eties, Ger­man Soci­ety Coal and Fuel Sci­ence award (DGMK-Kolleg). He was a mem­ber of the Royal Nether­lands Acad­emy of Sciences.

In addi­tion to his many sci­en­tific con­tri­bu­tions, many of his friends and col­leagues would remem­ber his wel­com­ing and friendly per­son­al­ity and his con­sis­tent will­ing­ness to help. He offered a very timely help­ing hand to help pro­fes­sional col­leagues as they sought to escape East­ern Europe dur­ing the cold war era. He guided var­i­ous young sci­en­tists at Shell and at Lei­den who later became lead­ing fig­ures in the field. At North­west­ern, he men­tored a large num­ber of stu­dents and post-doctoral fel­lows, many of them have taken lead­er­ship posi­tions in com­pa­nies and who would pay him fre­quent vis­its, some as recent as late last year.

He is sur­vived by his wife of over 60 years Anne-Lore and by three chil­dren and grand­chil­dren.
Harold Kung
North­west­ern Uni­ver­sity
The North­west­ern web site also con­tains a state­ment cel­e­brat­ing the accom­plish­ments of Pro­fes­sor Sachtler (